The Indian government's response to a report on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh published Wednesday by the Washington Post has had the local media heatedly debating the validity of the article and India's sensitive reaction to foreign publications finding fault with its leaders.
Singh's media team wrote a furious rejoinder to Post's India bureau chief Simon Denyer after he had written a story on the sorry state affairs in the government which is mired in massive corruption controversies and continuing policy paralysis. He termed the premier as "silent" and "tragic."
The government's angry reaction revolved around the fact that Denyer failed to attribute in his story two quotes -- from historian Ramachandra Guha and the prime minister's former media advisor Sanjaya Baru -- to the Indian magazine, Caravan, which originally published the quotes in an article last year.
Baru's statement on Facebook alleging that Denyer used his quote without talking to him further fueled the controversy, which led to the Post issuing a correction to the article:
"An earlier version of this article failed to credit the Caravan, an Indian magazine, for two statements that it originally published in 2011. The assertion by Sanjaya Baru, a former media adviser, that Singh had become an object of ridicule and endured the worst period in his life first appeared in the Caravan, as did an assertion by Ramachandra Guha, a political historian, that Singh was handicapped by his 'timidity, complacency and intellectual dishonesty.' While both men told The Post that the assertions could accurately be attributed to them, the article should have credited the Caravan when it used or paraphrased the remarks."
Continue Reading Below
The Post also updated the article attributing the quotes to Caravan.
However, Denyer rejected calls for apologies saying he was sticking to the story while questioning Baru's statement on Facebook.
In an email to Firstpost, Denyer said he had a telephonic conversation with Baru in June during which the latter said Singh's second term was a "disaster" and "completely wasted."
"He (Baru) also said PM 'could have made use of the opportunity he got in 2009. He chose not to,'" Denyer wrote in the email, clarifying that Baru gave him permission to use his quote which was first published by Caravan.
However Firstpost observed that the "issue is not one of attribution or the lack of it. The issue is that, on reading the original version, the sense a reader would have got is that both Baru and Guha made these comments to Denyer in a recent exchange, not statements that they had made in 2011."
Denyer told the Economic Times that it would be a "disservice" to his readers if he didn't write what the "ground reality" in India was. He said he had been waiting for an interview with Singh since 2004, but was turned down a number of times, suggesting that it was the Prime Minister's Office that was responsible for not utilizing its chance to be heard in his story.
The Hindustan Times, in a blog post on the Indian reaction to Denyer's article, said the Indian government's response to the article didn't qualify to be the subject of a major controversy.
"The Indian government has complained. And all of us have said that the government has behaved stupidly and foolishly. So, no huge controversy about its response: just lots of condemnation," the blog post read.
The Hindustan Times wrote that Denyer's article was "not more critical of the prime minister than the sorts of commentary that have appeared in the Indian press."
However, when criticism comes from the West, "we suddenly get all agitated and send off angry letters of protest," the commentary says.
The current debate is closely reminiscent of a controversy in July when a Time magazine cover labeled Singh as "the underachiever," sparking angry reactions in India.
The Indian reaction was captured in a retaliatory gesture by Outlook magazine which dubbed U.S. President Barack Obama "the underachiever."